UNC basketball: 5 reasons Tar Heels are ranked No. 1 again in preseason Top 25 poll
The 2022-23 college basketball season is just around the corner, and expectations are through the roof for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Carolina finished last season as the national runner-up, falling in the title game to Kansas after beating Duke in the Final Four. In their first year under Hubert Davis, the Heels put the pieces together midway through the season to finish on fire, winning 13 of their final 16 games to catapult into the tournament and all the way to the Final Four.
Carolina is ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 for the 10th time in program history, and there’s a buzz around Davis’ team as November approaches.
Here are 5 reasons the Heels are ranked No. 1 to open up the season:
In today’s college basketball, keeping a roster together from year to year is a tall task. To do it with a group that played for a national championship is nearly impossible.
But that’s exactly what Davis did, as Carolina’s 2022-23 roster doesn’t look all that different from how it did in March. Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Leaky Black all return from the starting lineup, as Carolina brings back 4 of 5 starters.
In terms of production, the Heels are returning 71% of their scoring and 69% of their rebounding, led in both departments by Bacot. The veteran big man was a first-team All-ACC performer and finished second in ACC Player of the Year voting, and his return is monumental for the Heels.
The backcourt duo of Love and RJ Davis returns, with Black back to play the wing. Role players Puff Johnson, Dontrez Styles and Justin McKoy also returned.
While the Heels will have to replace the high-level production of Brady Manek, most of the meaningful roster is back for the Tar Heels. It’s the main reason Carolina is ranked No. 1.
Armando Bacot delayed NBA dreams
Now one of the most veteran players in the entire country, Bacot’s return for a final season has huge implications for how things could go for the Heels.
Bacot reached a new level in 2021-22, averaging a team-high 16.3 and 13.1 rebounds per game. His experience and size in the post make him one of the best bigs in the NCAA, and he will certainly be a front-runner to win ACC Player of the Year in the season ahead.
Carolina has always prided itself on having good bigs, and Bacot is another in a long line of really successful post players in Chapel Hill. While the Heels will benefit from having a lot of players back, by far the most impactful returner is Bacot.
The addition of Pete Nance
Replacing Manek is Carolina’s biggest concern, but Davis again went to the transfer portal and got a gem to replace the Heels’ previous transfer portal star.
Carolina added forward Pete Nance from Northwestern, a natural replacement for Manek. Nance had a heck of a season for the Wildcats in 2021-22. Nance averaged 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, continuing on a steady upward trend as his career has progressed.
He’s got great size at 6-11, and he’s a good shooter just like Manek was. Nance shot 49.7% from the field and 45.2% from 3-point range for the Wildcats last year, and he’ll surely be relied on to knock down shots for Carolina in a similar way to Manek.
He won’t match Manek’s volume, though. Manek led the ACC with 98 3-pointers last season. Nance has only made 106 in his career, though last season he did hit a career-best 42.
The Tar Heels had a need, and Nance met that need.
Steady improvement from the Love/Davis backcourt
Now entering their third season playing together with the Tar Heels, the clear signs of growth in both RJ Davis and Caleb Love in 2021-22 offer promise for an even better season ahead for the duo.
Love was behind only Bacot in scoring for the Heels last year, averaging 15.9 points per game to go along with 3.6 assists per contest and 3.4 rebounds. He added 4 points to his scoring average from his freshman year, and he also bumped his shooting percentage up from 32% TO 37%. He also became much more of a deep threat, knocking down 93 3-pointers on the season while shooting 36% from beyond the arc.
Included, of course, was his game-sealing 3 to beat Duke in the Final Four.
As for Davis, he bumped his scoring average up from 8.4 points per game to 13.5 while bumping his assists per game from 1.9 to 3.6. He shot a much-improved 43% from the field and 37% from 3-point range, as he showed clear signs of growth across the board.
Now heading into their junior seasons, there’s no reason not to expect more steady growth from Carolina’s really talented backcourt duo.
Clear signs of growth with Davis in charge
Carolina had a big challenge last year with its first coaching change in a long time, as Hubert Davis took over for Roy Williams after 18 seasons, 485 wins and 3 national titles.
And while things started a little bit slow on Davis’ tenure, Year 1 was obviously an overwhelming success as the Heels marched all the way to the championship game. And a great sign of better things to come was just how much better Carolina got over the course of the season.
The Heels lost their first 2 Power 5 games of the season, to Purdue and Tennessee, and they started out just 4-3 in ACC play. But things turned greatly toward the end of January, as the Heels finished off the year 17-4 in their last 21 games and got really hot in the tournament.
Once things got going for Carolina, they got going really well. The team improved greatly during the course of Davis’ first season in charge, and now with a lot of pieces back there’s an undeniably high ceiling for the group.
It’s the reason Carolina is No. 1, and it’s the reason the Tar Heels are the favorite to win the ACC.